The grand Astor theatre in St Kilda housed a rare event on the Australian arts calendar - live film music played by a full orchestra! The organisers had chosen to bring some of the best film music to live again in Melbourne’s historic picture palace, where it was first heard together with the films.

This afternoon, however, the main story was the music and the main character, the orchestra. While prominent music from Conan the Barbarian, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Aliens, Ben Hur, Transformers, The Last of the Mohicans, Castaway, The Planet of the Apes, Alien 3 and Gone With the Wind sounded, the screen was projecting close-ups of the musicians. This was the concert premiere in Australia of most pieces in the program.

Well-known and treasured by cinema crowds over the world, preserved in profitable soundtracks, the growing body of this living genre is struggling to enter the concert hall repertory. The status of film music suffers from the bias that as functional music it cannot stand on its own. Yet, it is the very heart of the Western classical music tradition that film music draws from, exemplifies and feeds back into.

It is true that some film pieces are certainly very short, descriptive or melodramatic but there is film music which grasps the attention of the most fierce classical music critic. Case in point in this concert programme was Miklos Rozsa’s music for Ben Hur, Alan Silvestri’s Crossroads from Castaway, Jerry Goldsmith’s Hunt from The Planet of the Apes and the famous Tara from Gone With the Wind by Max Steiner. 

The program was nicely balanced with short and long, and old and contemporary pieces, boasting a wide range of styles, moods and orchestral colour. Led by Gerald Keuneman, the Victorian Concert Orchestra played this music with love and zeal. The percussion section stood out strong and reliable, while the violins and trumpets suffered poor pitch or tone attack in exposed sections. Nevertheless, their rendition of the Prelude to Ben Hur and Tara from Gone With the Wind made the audience experience the true fairytale of live film music.

The concert educated and engaged the audience. The event and each segment were introduced in an informative and entertaining way. The relaxed art-deco demeanour of the Astor welcomed the crowd into a comfortable atmosphere and allowed them to enjoy ice cream, pop corn and champagne during the performance.

The audience filled about two thirds of the stalls. Unlike concert hall audiences, this was a young audience: people in their early or late twenties, lovers, families with children and the odd baby boomer fan. The success of this concert suggests that good film music and a less formal performance mode could be a door to younger audiences in the concert hall.

It takes a lot of love, dedication and sacrifice to put on a concert of film music of this magnitude and quality. Under the name Movies from the Movies Australia, the organisers are major pioneers of film music appreciation in Australia and this concert, an historic occasion.

Victorian Concert Orchestra presents

Venue: Astor Theatre | Cnr Dandenong Rd and Chapel St, St Kilda
Date/Time: 2.30pm April 18, 2010
Tickets: Adults $55, Conc $45
Bookings: | Astor Theatre box office

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